Wright, Teresa (1918—)

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Wright, Teresa (1918—)

Academy Award-winning American actress best known for her performances in such classics as Shadow of a Doubt and The Little Foxes . Born Muriel Teresa Wright in Harlem, New York, on October 27, 1918; daughter of Arthur Wright and Martha (Espy) Wright; attended Rosehaven, a private school in Tenafly, New Jersey, 1925–28, and public schools in Maplewood, New Jersey, 1929–36; studied acting at the Wharf Theater, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1937–38; married Niven Busch, in 1942 (divorced 1952); married Robert Woodruff Anderson (the play-wight), in 1959 (divorced); married Carlos Pierre (marriage ended); remarried Robert Anderson.

Selected filmography:

The Little Foxes (1941); Mrs. Miniver (1942); The Pride of the Yankees (1942); Shadow of a Doubt (1943); Casanova Brown (1944); The Best Years of Our Lives (1946); Pursued (1947); Enchantment (1948); The Capture (1950); The Men (1950); Something to Live For (1952); California Conquest (1952); The Steel Trap (1952); The Actress (1953); Track of the Cat (1954); The Search for Bridey Murphy (1956); Escapade in Japan (1957); The Restless Years (1958); Hail Hero! (1969); The Happy Ending (1969); Roseland (1977); Somewhere in Time (1979); The Good Mother (1988).

The American actress Teresa Wright enjoyed a film and stage career which spanned six decades. Born Muriel Teresa Wright in New York City in 1918, Wright spent her first years with relatives after her parents separated. When she was eight, her father sent her to Rosehaven, a private girls' school in New Jersey. After three years there, she attended public school in Maplewood, New Jersey.

It was during her high school years that Wright decided on an acting career. She was inspired by Helen Hayes ' performance in Victoria Regina and by her uncle and father, both amateur actors. She studied drama at Columbia High School as well as at summer programs in 1937 and 1938 at the Wharf Theater in Provincetown, Massachusetts. After graduating from high school in 1938, she moved back to New York City.

There, she successfully auditioned for the lead's understudy in Our Town. In the spring of 1939, after both the lead actress Martha Scott and her understudy Dorothy McGuire left the production, Wright played the lead through that summer. She had the opportunity to perform in the hometown of the playwright Thornton Wilder where he coached the actors. After a season in summer stock, in 1939 Wright landed a role in the Broadway production of Life with Father, which ran for two years. Although she always went by Muriel in her private life, Wright was forced to use her middle name of Theresa as a performer, since there was already a Muriel Wright registered with Actors' Equity.

While playing in Life with Father, she was hired by Samuel Goldwyn to appear with Bette Davis in the film version of Lillian Hellman 's The Little Foxes. Her contract for this production is thought to be unique in movie history; clause 39 spelled out the many poses and shots that the actress could not be required to perform, such as appearing in a bathing suit, "running on the beach with her hair flying in the wind," or "wearing a bunny cap with long ears for Easter." Although this was part of Wright's efforts to protect her reputation as a serious actress by avoiding "cheesecake" publicity photos, the stipulations aroused an array of comments from the press. However, once The Little Foxes was released in 1941, her performance earned high praise from critics, and she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

The following year Wright enjoyed two more critical and popular successes. In 1942, she portrayed Eleanor Gehrig opposite Gary Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress; as well, she appeared with Greer Garson in Mrs. Miniver, the wartime family drama that won six Academy Awards. One of those went to Wright, for Best Supporting Actress. Also in 1942, she married screenwriter and novelist Niven Busch; they would divorce in 1952.

Although Wright earned critical praise for her roles in two classics, Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt and William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives, later roles in Hollywood pictures did not enhance her career. Part of this may be related to Wright's consistent refusal to do publicity work for her films; her intense desire for privacy may have prevented her from becoming a true Hollywood star by keeping her out of the public's eye.

Wright appeared in several television movies, most notably "The Miracle Worker" (1957) and "The Margaret Bourke-White Story" (1960), for which she was nominated for Emmy Awards. Then, in 1959, she married playwright Robert Anderson, and retired from the screen to further pursue her love of Broadway. They divorced and she later married Carlos Pierre. This marriage also ended and Wright subsequently remarried her second husband. She returned to Broadway, most notably in Mary, Mary in 1962 and Death of a Salesman in 1975. She also made several television appearances in the 1970s and 1980s, earning a third Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her performance in a 1989 episode of "Dolphin Cove."

sources:

Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television. Vol. 17. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1997.

Current Biography, 1943. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1943.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. NY: HarperPerennial, 1988.

Quinlan, David, ed. The Film Lover's Companion. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel, 1997.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California

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